In the early twentieth century American librarians laid a foundation for professional education that emphasized knowledge of literary books. However, already by the 1920s, a growing emphasis on providing useful information challenged leading librarians' concentration on reading in claiming intellectual dominance and practical resources. Professionally educated librarians shifted their disciplinary allegiance from the humanities to the social sciences and reinvented themselves from “missionaries of the book” to expert managers and “central intelligence” agents, a move that also called into question the profession's feminization. This article traces the history of this tension and suggests that late twentieth-century developments have provided scope for a renewed role for the humanities and a reconsideration of gender in education for librarianship.

In 1924 Mrs. Lester Benson Orr (the former Gladys Hook) wrote to her friend and mentor, Mary Emogene Hazeltine, from her home in Berwyn, Illinois: “You see, even a retired wls graduate can be useful as a ‘missionary of the book’ if only in a small way. I wish you might come out to see us and our library some time.”1 Gladys Hook was one of the hundreds of former students who had graduated from the Wisconsin Library School (wls) since it opened as a full-time program in 1906, the year that Hazeltine took over as principal, or “preceptress,” as she was known. The Wisconsin program was among the earliest courses of study for aspiring librarians (nearly all women) that were springing up at the turn of the twentieth century. Over the next hundred years, education for librarianship developed in fits and starts, sometimes forging ahead, but also suffering setbacks.

By the end of the twentieth century, a curriculum transformation had taken place that included a shift away from the reflective reading stressed by educators like Hazeltine, toward the organization of useful information and provision of technological support for information access, and from reliance on the methods and content of the humanities to those of the social sciences. Implicated in these curricular and concomitant administrative changes were gendered assumptions and beliefs that also shifted over the course of the century. The transformation was far from complete, however; at the beginning of the twenty-first century, humanistic values and methods inherited from the field's early days were still clearly visible, and even spreading.

The following analysis sketches four overlapping periods in the history of education for librarianship. In the earliest period, from the 1880s to the 1920s, Melvil Dewey established a college-based system consisting of both practical and theoretical elements. Several of Dewey's former students and associates, mostly college-educated women, further institutionalized and formalized Dewey's initiatives. Like Dewey they stressed the educative and quasi-religious nature of librarianship, appealing to library “faith” and “spirit” and claiming a socially transformative value for literary reading. They aimed to send out their mostly female library school graduates to the increasing numbers of public libraries that were springing up, especially in the Midwest and West, largely as a result of efforts by women's clubs and Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic building program. There, it was hoped, the missionary-librarians would provide public access to the “best reading.” In the second period, from the mid-1920s to the 1940s, this vision was challenged by a shift in focus toward public libraries as “community intelligence” centers providing useful information. The value for “good” books had not gone away, but its centrality was modified by an increased role for public librarians in organizing and providing access to the masses of information being produced by new and faster communications technologies. At the same time, the Carnegie Corporation partnered with the American Library Association to fund initiatives designed to raise the professional status of librarianship by fostering a graduate program in “library science” based on research in the social sciences that would educate a cadre of (it was assumed mostly male) leaders. One result was the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago, whose graduates, over the following decades, came to dominate education for librarianship and the field of library science.

The third period, from the 1950s to the early 1980s, confirmed library science's status as a university discipline and solidified the social scientific nature of its research. This period also saw the rise of information science in response to the post–World War II explosion in scientific and technical information, and the early adoption by libraries of innovative computer technology. However, this was also an era of boom and bust, in which a rapid expansion of college and university programs in the 1950s and 1960s was followed by a period of drastic educational cutbacks in the 1970s and 1980s, leading to many schools closing. The resulting uncertainties and anxieties were aggravated by competing visions for the field of the new hybrid “library and information science” (lis), which pitted an older literary-oriented service ethos against a newer business and information orientation that used masculinized language to depict public libraries as fatally flawed institutions doomed to extinction. The solution to school closings, proponents argued, was to edge out the old-fashioned library-based courses (mostly taught by women) in favor of more up-to-date information science courses based on computer technology (mostly taught by men). At the same time, the rise of women's studies was leading to a new awareness of gender as a dimension of social analysis that encouraged some women librarians and faculty to push back against the underlying assumption that “male” meant “better.” The resulting confrontation became coded as “L” versus “I.”

In the fourth period, from the later 1980s to the early twenty-first century, two major intellectual movements disrupted the simplistic “L” versus “I” binary, eventually reducing its relevance. The rise of postmodernism, with its challenge to positivist assumptions (such as the fact-value dichotomy) questioned the very basis of the quantitative social sciences on which first library science, and then information science, had based their claims to disciplinary legitimacy. At the same time, a new multicultural sensitivity alerted librarians to the ways in which public libraries excluded representations of and by members of ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, the working classes, lgbtq members, people with disabilities, and women from their services and collections. Popular print and digital materials gained acceptance in public libraries, and with the public's enthusiastic response to digital services and collections threats of public library extinction receded. In response to these movements, schools began to engage in new areas of research that were challenging or complementing the traditional social scientific methods and that incorporated humanistic approaches. With continued institutional pressure to economize by merging campus programs, the multidisciplinary “iSchool” movement appeared, and encouraged more expansive curricula that reflected innovative services and research, providing renewed scope for humanities-based courses.

The following pages expand on the principal themes of these four periods, often using the story of the Wisconsin Library School as an illustration. Wisconsin was not usually in the vanguard of developments in education for librarianship; rather, it was in the forefront of their more general adoption. In 1912 Melvil Dewey wrote, “When, as often happens, my mental vision sweeps over all the country to see where the best work in some particular line is being done, the state most likely to loom up as leader is Wisconsin, to which we of New York always claim a kinship and think of it as a new New York a thousand miles nearer the sunset.”2 Dewey's generous assessment was probably prompted by the way Wisconsin's library community enthusiastically followed his own leadership. Wisconsin thus provides a good example of the way in which innovations became incorporated in the mainstream.

1880s–1920s: Promoting the “Best Reading”

Formal education for librarianship began in the United States in the 1880s, at Columbia College (now Columbia University), where Melvil Dewey became librarian-in-chief in 1883. Already a leader in the field through his invention of Dewey Decimal Classification, editorship of Library Journal, prominence in the American Library Association (ala), and co-ownership of the library supplies company Library Bureau, Dewey now set his stamp on the development of formal training for the emerging profession. At Columbia Dewey was free to select an almost entirely new library staff and, as always, seeking value for money he hired seven women as assistant librarians, of whom six were known as “the Wellesley Half Dozen,” acknowledging their alma mater. College-educated women were ideal candidates for library work in Dewey's view. He paid his female staff at only half the rate of the male staff, but could count on them for dedication, as well as extensive cultural and academic accomplishments. If Dewey was pushing the boundaries of the all-male Columbia College's tolerance by hiring women library assistants, he went further in 1886 when he advertised for women students at his prospective School of Library Economy, to be instituted under the aegis of the college. The College Board of Trustees opposed opening classes to women, and in 1887 the school opened in premises that were technically not part of campus, with twenty students, seventeen of them women. Some of the instructors were also women, including library employees like Mary Salome Cutler, and visiting librarians like Caroline Hewins.3

In 1879, with the proliferating public libraries in mind, Dewey encouraged ala to adopt as its motto, “the best reading for the largest number at the least expense.”4 Now he designed the school's curriculum to produce librarians capable of promoting “the best reading” in the most efficient and economical way as possible. The school offered classes in library economy and bibliography, with lectures by specialists in binding, printing, publishing, book-selling, and mechanical equipment, and the opportunity to benefit from advice from leading librarians.5 Dewey also intended the curriculum to build students' character and imbue them with “library spirit” (meaning commitment to service). Akin to the concept of library spirit was the notion of “library faith”— a belief in the transformative effects of books and reading not only on individuals, but on society as whole, and therefore a moral justification for public investment in local libraries free to all.

Dewey could instill in his employees and students a commitment to his ideals and principles that bordered on devotion in some cases. But he had an abrasive personality that some found grating. His incessant self-promotion, combined with a neglect of social niceties, and his insistence on accepting women as employees and students earned him no friends on the Columbia Board of Trustees, and in 1888, for a combination of reasons, they found a way to get rid of him. Dewey had already been offered the position of New York State Librarian, and in January 1889 he resigned from Columbia College. The Columbia School closed, to reopen in Albany as the New York State Library School with five of Dewey's instructors, including Cutler, who became the school's vice-director soon after her arrival.6 Unlike an earlier generation of library leaders, who included William Frederick Poole, Justin Winsor, and Charles Ammi Cutter (members of an intellectual elite who supported a high-culture vision for librarianship and saw themselves as scholars as well as librarians), Dewey showed little intellectual curiosity or interest in scholarship.7 His was a utilitarian, technocratic vision; public libraries should be efficient, well-run organizations that helped transmit the white, Protestant, Anglophone cultural values that dominated the age. But Dewey did believe in the value of a college education to aspiring librarians. At first only a high school education was required of applicants to the New York State Library School, but about half of those who matriculated had a college degree. Most were women.8

In their role as guardians of national culture and promoters of civilization, by the late nineteenth century middle-class white women were increasingly active outside the home. One of their principal avenues of engagement in the public sphere was through work in schools and missions both in America and abroad. Early women's colleges, like Mount Holyoke (founded in 1837), aimed to inculcate students with personal and religious discipline, training women to be teachers and missionaries. Later Vassar (opened in 1865), Wellesley (1874), and Smith (1875) also supported traditionally feminine social norms in the form of “a refined, intelligent, Christian womanhood,” but they aimed, too, to provide an intellectual education along the lines that men's colleges offered.9 Most common was the classical course of study, consisting of ancient languages and other humanistic subjects, including history, literature, philosophy, and mathematics, which venerable men's colleges such as Yale, Princeton, Amherst, and Williams had established before the Civil War.10 Embracing both intellectual activities and the role of civilizer made college-educated women especially open to Dewey's concept of the library faith.

Following Dewey's efforts in New York State, several library schools led by his graduates opened in different parts of the country. Pratt Institute (led by Mary Wright Plummer) opened in 1890, Drexel (Alice Bertha Kroeger) in 1892, and the Armour Institute (Katharine Lucinda Sharp) in 1893.11 In 1897 Sharp moved to the new library school at the University of Illinois, where she was to stay for the next ten years. As a Dewey disciple, Sharp drew on his managerial model, but she was also a proud graduate of Northwestern University, and believed that librarians needed a full four-year college degree before entering their professional studies. At Illinois she established the first school to be accepted as a university discipline, its program leading to a formal four-year degree. Students received technical training only in their third and fourth years, but were not admitted to the library program until they had two years of college education.12

By 1900 three categories of institution were sponsoring education for librarianship. Through higher education (colleges, universities, and technical institutes) students could enroll in a program that provided a course of study through formal classes. At some larger libraries aspiring librarians could join apprentice-like schemes while gaining practical experience in library work. And some state library commissions—government bodies that promoted the development of public libraries, especially in rural areas—also provided opportunities for library education. Most library commission programs were held in the summer, inspired by existing summer institutes to train schoolteachers, and attracting the same potential workforce as the school system—mostly female, high-school educated, and drawn from rural areas where women had few occupational choices. In Wisconsin formal education for librarianship started with summer institutes that the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (wflc, one of the most active and influential library commissions) began in Madison in 1895, and that followed a curriculum initially devised by Katharine Sharp. Sharp directed the summer program for its first two years, followed by Cornelia Marvin (a graduate and former teacher of the Armour Institute), who ran it until 1905. Marvin largely followed Sharp's original book-centered curriculum of selection, cataloging, classification, reference, bibliography and library economy, and later added sessions on buildings, children's work administration, librarianship and public documents.13

The Wisconsin experience illustrates how the developing library schools blended practical skills with the kind of intellectual training in the humanities that leaders like Sharp felt were so critical. To capitalize on their summer school success, in 1904 the wflc called for the establishment of a “permanent library school.” Space was found in the Madison Public Library's new Carnegie-sponsored building, and in 1906 the Wisconsin Library School (wls) opened as a yearlong program. The wflc tried to recruit Sharp to direct the program, but she declined, and Marvin decided to move to Oregon to head the state's new library commission. Instead, in November 1905, the wflc hired Mary Emogene Hazeltine from Jamestown, New York, who directed the wls until her retirement in 1938.14 Although Hazeltine was effectively in charge of the school, its formal director was the (male) wflc Secretary (as its executive director was known), hence her title of preceptress.

Over her long career, Hazeltine both influenced and experienced the effects of major changes and challenges in the developing field of library education. Unlike Sharp and Marvin, Hazeltine had no formal training in librarianship, but she had a solid practical background as director of the public library in Jamestown and she had also successfully run the Summer School for Library Training at Chautauqua (appointed at Dewey's suggestion). Like Sharp, Hazeltine was a graduate of a four-year college program—at Wellesley, where the all-female faculty led the all-female student body through the classical curriculum. Drawing on her own college background, Hazeltine saw a humanities-based course of serious study, supported by extended periods of quiet, disciplined, individual application, as desirable preparation for librarianship. The wflc commissioners were particularly impressed by Hazeltine's Wellesley background and no doubt approved of her efforts to raise the intellectual standards for admission.15 At Wisconsin the 1912 university catalogue called for applicants to “bear in mind the importance of a college course as an education/equipment for library work.” All candidates, the catalogue stated, should have at least two years of college training, and an entrance examination tested their knowledge, “especially in history, general literature, and current events.”16

Although women's colleges emulated men's colleges in many respects, one component that differed was their focus on service in professional areas where women were not in direct competition with men. At a time when men were developing new professions of engineering, social scientific research, city planning, journalism, and scientific management, women were emerging as leaders in social work, ancillary health professions, and librarianship: professions that coincided with earlier social expectations that educated women should serve the poor as missionaries and unpaid volunteers.17 Female professionals worked closely with immigrants, children, and the poor, most famously in settlement houses, of which the most celebrated was Jane Addams's Hull House in Chicago. Library educators like Sharp and Hazeltine were impressed by the settlements. wls students were required to read books by and about Jane Addams, and took field trips to Chicago, visiting not only the famous libraries of the city, but also Hull House and what they termed “the ghetto,” where most immigrants lived.18 Thus they were encouraged to draw a parallel between the social work of the settlements, and the social work of public libraries, particularly in helping immigrants adjust to life in America.

Although in Hazeltine's view, intellectual ability was important for entering students, “personality” was also crucial for their success, and the 1907–8 school catalogue warned that much depended upon the “spirit” in which library work was undertaken.19 Candidates traveled to Madison for an interview, at which Hazeltine assessed their personality and capability for library spirit. Once admitted, if a student appeared to be lacking in spirit, she would be summoned for a private pep talk with Hazeltine.20 Above all, Hazeltine imbued her mostly female students with a fervent desire to be missionaries of the book, particularly through her book selection classes, a required curricular element. Hundreds of graduates fanned out across the country to the many new public libraries, to spread the word about books and reading, doubtless accepting without question the library faith in books and reading that their professional education stressed.

wls student records and correspondence show how Hazeltine's philosophy influenced students like Gladys Hook throughout their careers, and indeed their lives, as they sought to shape and “improve” their patrons' reading choices. Other early library school directors, almost all women, shared Hazeltine's book-centered vision for librarianship, similarly emphasizing college preparation in the liberal arts in the belief that character development was enhanced through literary understanding. “Most early library school students shared a common literary heritage and subscribed to the same cultural, intellectual, and literary canons,” comments historian Joanne Passet.21 This literary heritage had taught them to distinguish “good” reading from “bad” through repeated exposure to a cultural norm that was especially suspicious of novels. Librarians learned to distinguish “wholesome” fiction from “trash,” and by the 1920s were selecting books for public libraries based on recommendations from such trusted selection tools as the ala Catalog, Booklist, and the H. W. Wilson Company's publications such as Book Review Digest and Standard Catalog for Public Libraries (later titled Public Library Catalog). The Wisconsin Library Bulletin and other professional journals published lists of what not to buy, warning particularly against series books for young people.22 This period also saw the spread of a set of professional practices that aimed to steer individual library patrons toward the right reading, known as Readers' Advisory.23

1920s–1940s: Enter the Carnegie Corporation

In their early years, library schools developed haphazardly. Some coordination occurred through the formation in 1903 of ala's Committee on Training, and the founding in 1915 of the Association of American Library Schools (aals), which provided an early form of accreditation. By the early 1920s the following elements had fallen into place: training in the specific skills and knowledge required to run a library, especially cataloging, classification, and reference work; a thorough grounding in the humanities, particularly in literature and knowledge of books; and a commitment to self-sacrificing service. Research was not considered important but, such as it was, consisted of studying the history of books and printing, bibliography (especially the rules of cataloging), and systems of classification.24

However, this book-oriented philosophy was starting to lose traction as influential voices began to express a competing value for consumer-oriented utilitarian information that came to dominate library leaders' thought in the 1920s and 1930s. Behind many of these voices lay a powerful force: the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Carnegie Corporation's role in setting a course for American higher education in general, and library education in particular, in the absence of large-scale public funding during this period. Andrew Carnegie is principally known for his systematic support for building about 2,500 public libraries in the English-speaking world, but after his death in 1919 the focus of the Carnegie Corporation's library philanthropy shifted away from buildings and toward improving the quality of the work within them. To that end, the corporation created a partnership with ala, sponsoring several major reports that reported on the state of libraries and library education and made policy recommendations, including a study by economist Charles C. Williamson of fifteen library schools. This study resulted in a published report in 1923, followed by further recommendations in 1926.25

Williamson recommended locating library training solely in colleges and universities, eliminating the apprenticeship schemes. He also aimed to raise the status of librarianship by attracting more men, and separating higher-level managerial functions from lower-level clerical tasks. He advocated establishing a scientific research tradition and founding a new graduate library school designed to educate researchers and administrators to lead and educate the profession.26 Williamson evidently envisaged a gendered structure similar to that of the medical profession, with its sharp division between (male) doctors and (female) nurses, but in librarianship the distinction between men's and women's work would never be as clearly defined.27 Still, by the middle of the twentieth century, Alice I. Bryan reported on a Carnegie-funded survey of public libraries (the Public Library Inquiry), that there existed “not a single but a dual career structure for public librarians differentiated on the basis of sex—an accelerated library career for the minority, composed of men, and a basic library career established within considerably lower limits for the majority, who are women.”28

In the 1920s the thrust of the ala and Carnegie Corporation's joint intervention fitted the corporation's overall policy of favoring “scientific philanthropy”: the achievement of social reform based on the social scientific analysis of empirical data. One effect was to shift social reform efforts away from female-dominated settlement houses (which never received Carnegie funding) and toward male-dominated research institutes like the National Bureau of Economic Research, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council. Within librarianship, the female-dominated aals (78% of its officers between 1915 and 1923 were women) found itself nudged aside as the male-dominated ala assumed the function of accrediting library schools in 1924.29 In 1938 Mary Emogene Hazeltine retired as wls director, and the following year the school moved physically and administratively to the University of Wisconsin, thus fulfilling a key Williamson recommendation. Advising on Hazeltine's successor, Williamson wrote, “The alumni, of course, nearly all being women naturally want a woman. I have a feeling that the Wisconsin Library School has suffered from over-feminization and would gain greatly by having a man for [director].”30

In response to Williamson's findings and recommendations, the Carnegie Corporation granted over $1.4 million to support existing library schools, and over $1.3 million each for ala and to establish a new graduate library school.31 This led to the founding in 1927 of the Graduate Library School (gls), at the University of Chicago, an institution that was to prove extraordinarily influential in the sixty or so years of its existence. From the beginning, it was clear that the new library school was not interested in solving practical problems in the Dewey tradition, and neither was it interested in promoting the “best reading.” A major gls project was to define the meaning of “library science” in research terms; according to its first director, George A. Works, “Graduate work means research, and research means the extension of the boundaries of knowledge.”32 At Chicago, the social sciences (a relatively new area of university study) were on the rise, and close links quickly formed between social science departments and the gls. The glsCatalogue also emphasized the importance of social science coursework, asserting in 1929–30 that aspiring library administrators should “make selections from the offerings in political science, economics, and sociology.”33 In principle, the gls faculty stressed the interdisciplinarity of library science, but in practice they most often looked for inspiration to the social sciences, especially sociology, political science, and education.34

Emphasis on the social sciences meshed well with a developing public library interest in useful information. In 1924 another Carnegie-sponsored publication followed up the Williamson Report, when a memo written by William S. Learned of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was published under the corporation's aegis, titled The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge.35 In this memo Learned made policy suggestions to the Carnegie Corporation that supported Williamson's recommendations for the professional preparation of librarians and the training of library staff. He also enthusiastically described public libraries' role in coping with the “rapid accumulation of vast masses of information which makes imperative some means of selection, digest, or abridgment.” In complaints that would later sound uncannily familiar in the age of the Internet, Learned commented on a “phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication” and bemoaned the fact that “even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive.”36 One solution was already underway in “many progressive cities,” Learned argued, in the form of a “central intelligence service of the town not only for ‘polite’ literature, but for every commercial and vocational field of information.”37

Some major public libraries already offered such a service, and much of Learned's book was devoted to providing examples. He praised the Cleveland, Ohio, public library for its open shelves, adult education program (with services to “immigrant foreigners” and “illiterate or partly educated natives”), its provision for children and youth, and its branches and delivery stations distributed in schools and neighborhoods throughout the city. Learned pointed, too, to specialized services, such as the Business Library at Newark, New Jersey, the Teachers' Library in Indianapolis, and technology departments in cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh.38 Learned's publication was notable not only for its picture of what he considered the most forward-looking library practices of his day, but also as a marker of a point in which an older value for character formation through reading serious literature was being upstaged by the progressive ideal of quantifiable, useful information. The belief that librarians' work would gain significance (and, not incidentally, status) through providing information rather than encouraging the sustained reading of literary works (let alone the entertaining fiction that most library patrons—the majority of them women—actually sought) reinforced the expansion in library science research in the 1930s.

At the same time that the influence of the social sciences increased, that of the humanities declined. Although gls professors Douglas Waples and Leon Carnovsky called for research in the humanities (particularly in bibliography, history, paleography, advanced reference work, and rare books and museums), little research in these areas in fact occurred. Waples himself reinforced this trend by focusing mainly on the social sciences in his course, “Methods of Investigation.” The Carnegie Corporation showed little interest in funding research in the humanities, devoting less than 10 percent of the grants it awarded the gls during the 1930s to humanities research.39 In 1933 Pierce Butler, one of the first gls faculty members, published his influential essay, “Introduction to Library Science,” in which he set out a tripartite division of the field into “the sociological problem,” “the psychological problem,” and the “historical problem.”40 Although Butler's own research lay in the areas of bibliography and history, he stressed the importance of scientific method in developing the new field of library science.

Not all leading librarians favored this development, however. In 1931 C. Seymour Thompson, a librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, asked a rhetorical question in a speech given before the American Library Institute: “Do We Want a Library Science?” Answering his own question firmly in the negative, he argued that adopting a “keenly analytic” scientific approach “will stifle all true appreciation of books and of people, the two things which make library work a joy and an opportunity.” He continued: “If we can have a science only by adopting the psycho-sociological laboratory methods that are being urged upon us my answer is No, we do not want Librarianship to be a science. Let it be an art; a Fine Art,—untouched by science.”41

Thompson's was a doomed vision, however. The studies of reading that were prominent at the gls in the 1930s provide an example of the increasingly social scientific trend in lis research. In the first quarter of the century, a small number of research theses had appeared that took a social scientific approach to studying reading habits.42 Now library science researchers, too, were becoming interested in uncovering “facts” about people's reading preferences and patterns. Douglas Waples's book-length study What People Want to Read About (co-authored with Ralph Tyler and funded by the Carnegie Corporation and ala), appeared in 1931. Waples and Tyler sampled and classified the topics appearing in contemporary magazines and surveyed groups of adults about their preferences.43 In the 1930s gls faculty and students undertook an extensive research program into Americans' reading, publishing their results in a new journal devoted to library science research—The Library Quarterly—the first of its kind, and that before long became the premier venue for research publishing in library science.44

Some gls studies focused more broadly on community, rather than individual, reading patterns. Louis Round Wilson's Geography of Reading, published in 1938, gave a comprehensive state-by-state overview of library services across the United States. In 1941 Wilson's student, Eliza Atkins Gleason (the first African American women to earn a PhD in library science), published The Southern Negro and the Public Library, carefully documenting the lack of library service to the nearly 9 million African Americans living in thirteen southern states where segregated libraries were the norm. Studies such as these by Waples and Tyler, Wilson, and Gleason indicated both a shift in librarians' thinking about readers and an emphasis on libraries as the subject of state and national policy. The missionary perspective of readers as targets for improvement and even redemption was giving way to a vision of readers as consumers whose desires librarians had a duty to fulfill.

The invention of library science did not signal the end of the library faith, however. Although Hazeltine represented a vanishing breed of library school director, her book-oriented philosophy lived on through her many former students, some of whom themselves became library school faculty. Well into the late twentieth century, librarians continued to tailor their collections to fit middlebrow cultural expectations of what counted as “good reading.” Through their selection practices and Readers Advisory services they communicated an especial disdain for popular fiction, particularly the romance novels epitomized from the 1950s on by such wildly successful imprints as Harlequin. But Readers Advisory services gradually declined during the decades following World War II, as public librarians increasingly transmitted a set of ideological justifications that sidelined the library faith in reading, and that emphasized instead a value for “neutral,” factual information, and a technocratic vision for public libraries.

1950s–1980s: The Rise and Fall of Library Science

The period following World War II saw an increase in federal research funding, with the founding of the National Science Foundation in 1950, and the expansion of other government research agencies. After the launching of Sputnik in 1957, the space race provided a further boost to federal funding of the sciences, and the 1960s and 1970s saw a general expansion of education, creating new job opportunities for librarians. Between 1961 and 1976 twenty-three new schools of library education were founded and accredited by ala (five of these in Canada), increasing the number of accredited schools at the time by nearly 40 percent.45

Already by the 1950s, the strategy of creating library science was paying off in important ways, including benefiting from the postwar explosion in federal funding for science and technology. Over several decades the gls established itself as a strong influence on the expanding field of library education, as its alumni spread out to other library schools that were now adding doctoral programs. In 1951, for example, no fewer than four former gls students were on the faculty at the University of Illinois. In 1951 Columbia offered a doctoral degree in library science followed by Western Reserve in 1956, Berkeley in 1959, and Rutgers in 1960. But Richardson points out that concentrating on library science carried costs, too. “Although many academic university library positions were held by gls graduates,” he argues, “the head librarians' posts at Yale, Princeton, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and two research libraries (the Newberry and the Library of Congress) were filled by cultural bookmen or subject specialists in the humanities. Had the gls equally emphasized humanities research, it is possible that the gls might have succeeded in filling these positions as well.”46

In the 1950s the field of “documentation” expanded to deal with the rapid increase in scientific publications. A leader of the documentation movement was a gls graduate and historian: Jesse Shera, library science dean at Case Western Reserve University and editor of the journal American Documentation. Gradually, the term “information science” replaced “documentation.” The American Documentation Institute (adi), founded in 1937, was renamed the American Society for Information Science (asis) in 1968, and in the same year American Documentation became the Journal of the American Society for Information Science (jasis, now jasis&t, with the addition of Technology), a journal that eventually challenged Library Quarterly for pre-eminence in the field of what was increasingly known as “library and information science,” or lis. At the same time, librarians were taking advantage of, and contributing to, the technological trends of the 1960s. In 1967 they formed Ohio College Library Center (oclc, now the Online Computer Library Center), and in 1968 at the Library of Congress Henriette Avram produced a pilot version of Machine Readable Cataloguing, or marc. In 1969 the wholesalers Baker and Taylor began the first automated library acquisitions system. Developments such as these underscored the need for library schools to devote more of the curriculum to teaching skills in the new technologies.

The trajectory that had seen advocates for social service and the humanities sidelined in the 1920s and 1930s in favor of the “harder” (and by implication more masculine) social sciences that had gathered steam with the expansion of the sciences in the 1960s, continued in the 1970s and 1980s as the discipline of information science struggled to gain a foothold on campus. Excluded from the fast expanding computer science departments, information scientists saw library schools—small, and with a predominantly female student body—as ripe for takeover. Some of the schools themselves saw a partnership between library science and information science as a means to bolstering their own campus status and increasing their size, while adding a new set of intellectual tools to their curricula. Library schools that quickly moved to incorporate information science in their programs and titles were the University of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Drexel, and Rutgers.47

In 1982 Stephen P. Harter of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University wrote an opinion piece in the asisBulletin that he titled “Library Education is in Trouble.” Harter contrasted the boom times for “information professionals,” which he cited as a growing proportion of the workforce and for university departments of computer science and business, with the lean times experienced by library schools. “Because we call ourselves library schools and because our courses are about libraries,” he contended, “a significant proportion of the public—even those seeking education and training in information—thinks us irrelevant because it finds libraries irrelevant.” 48 Later in the same year, Tefko Saracevic, a professor of library and information science at Case Western Reserve University and former president of asis, published an editorial titled “Time for Divorce: Setting up Degree Programs in Information Science.”49

Such rhetoric emphasized an aggressive approach that saw in information science a potential source of transformation from an academic backwater linked to an outdated public service (moreover one dominated by women) that was likely to disappear as privatized, individualistic and commercial information took over in a contest for survival. An influential figure who consistently stressed masculine while disparaging feminine imagery and language was Harter's Indiana colleague Blaise Cronin, who in an often-cited 1995 article used words like “gushing,” “shrill,” and “irrational” to pour scorn on his (often but not always female) opponents, while endorsing “bullish” and “aggressive” responses, aspiration to “best of breed” status, imitation of the “corporate world” and adoption of “business values.”50 Such provocative language did little to cool down the temperature of the “I” versus “L” debate, and not surprisingly, women faculty and librarians struck back. A leading voice was that of Suzanne Hildenbrand, professor of information and library studies at Buffalo, who pointed out that men had disproportionately dominated leadership positions in librarianship since its feminization in the late nineteenth century. Now in the late twentieth century the insertion of information science into library science programs was only strengthening that stratification. Male faculty overwhelmingly dominated the teaching of information science courses, covering such areas as database design and computer programming. These were squeezing out library-focused courses in such areas as cataloging, children's and youth services, and government publications, now increasingly taught by lower-status adjunct rather than tenure-track faculty.51 A humanities-oriented specialism that almost vanished from the curriculum was library history—once a commonly taken subject, but now deemed little more than a frill in many schools.52

Although most schools held back from a clean break between “L” and “I,” more and more adjusted their titles in the 1980s. In September 1984 the Wilson Library Bulletin reported that the Wisconsin Library School had chosen the name Library and Information Studies, and that the curriculum now included “material from the emerging field of information science.” The focus included preparation for work in settings such as information analysis centers and data archives, as well as for offering services as freelance professionals.53 Shifting their disciplinary roots from the humanities to the social sciences, professionally educated librarians were transforming themselves from “bookmen” in libraries to expert managers and technocrats in “information agencies.” In reinventing itself as a university-based discipline, library education had adopted a strategy common to the developing professions that drew strength from the fact that the so-called hard sciences had succeeded in representing themselves as generators of progress, wealth, and knowledge. Earlier in the twentieth century, positivist theories representing science as nonpolitical and value-free encouraged the coining of such terms as “social science,” “domestic science,” “library science,” and now “information science.”54

From 1980 onward, the era of neo-conservatism took off under President Ronald Reagan, ushering in hard times for public institutions generally, and library education in particular. The university expansion of the 1960s and 1970s was over, and education for librarianship soon found itself in a struggle for survival on campus. In 1978 the University of Oregon closed its library school—the first instance of what would become a familiar story over the next two decades, as a rise in operational costs, proliferation in instructional programs, new technology and support services, and increased faculty and staff salaries raised universities' expenditures, at the same time that cuts in federal and state support reduced their income. Between 1978 and 1991 fifteen schools, including the famed gls, closed; most were private, leaving library education largely to the public sector.55 These events reflected a national trend, but local conditions were also significant, as Marion Paris concluded from her study of four school closings. All showed “a fundamental lack of understanding and communication between and among the library educators and their university managers…. Such difficulties were long-standing and relations bitter.” Library educators had allowed themselves to become isolated, failing to build coalitions with their campus peers, and so, when push came to shove, lacking allies. “Library schools,” she argued, “lost turf battles when educators could not effectively explain, for example, how and why their course offerings did not overlap with business or computer science curricula.” With a nod to the ongoing “L” and “I” debate, she continued, “The service component in librarianship is one that may have been lost sight of in some library schools' haste to be up-to-date technologically.”56 In the new order of things, librarians were to be missionaries no longer.

Later 1980s and 1990s: Postmodernism, Multiculturalism, and the iSchool

Surviving schools adopted various strategies in response to threats of closure. Some formed loose consortia with other departments, such as education, communications, or business, seeking safety in numbers. More fundamentally, schools were changing their identity. The metaphor of the Information Age had infused public consciousness, as personal computers proliferated not just in businesses and other organizations but also in middle-class homes. Now, having adopted the “I word” during the 1980s, by the mid-1990s some schools were beginning to drop the “L word.” Among Big Ten schools, the University of Michigan was one of the first to transform itself into an “iSchool” led by an engineer and to offer programs and courses in information technology and management like human-computer interaction and organizational information systems. Over the next two decades many other schools joined this now-international movement, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which in 2016 was calling itself the iSchool at uw Madison. Within the library education programs, some strands of humanities research, particularly in library history and children's literature, persisted and even flourished, but the social sciences continued to be dominant, contributing to a body of knowledge that conceived of truth as incontrovertibly discoverable, fact as separable from value, objectivity as unproblematic, and the methods of the hard sciences as a gold standard for social science researchers. The iSchool movement, with its focus on externally funded research, appeared to cement lis reliance on the methods of the quantitative social sciences.

The triumph of the technocrats was far from complete, however. By the end of the 1980s two major trends combined to create new opportunities for library education that promised to complement and even counterbalance information science and management. Behind these trends lay the turn toward postmodernism—a disciplinary upheaval that had been shaking the social sciences and the humanities since at least the late 1960s. By the mid-1990s, the interpretive revolution was well underway in sociology, history, and literary theory when its challenges to the epistemological assumptions undergirding the scientific imperative belatedly began to impinge upon lis researchers. At about the same time, lis was joining other fields in gaining a new political awareness of race and gender, spurred by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and second wave feminism in the 1970s. No longer a badge of quality, the predominantly white male characteristic of most universities was becoming a political and moral embarrassment. The homogeneity of library collections and of most library users was also a matter of concern, spurring a movement within libraries to represent in their collections the cultures and histories of “ordinary” people—those who live their lives in relative anonymity, including members of ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, the working classes, lgbtq members, and women.

In the early 1990s multiculturalism became a new focus for lis research and teaching. The 1992 “Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies” issued by ala required that program objectives should reflect “the role of library and information services in a rapidly changing multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual society, including the role of serving the needs of underserved groups.”57 Librarians had long been calling for greater diversity in materials for children, and now services for adults were beginning to catch up. The multicultural impetus was just one example of several research areas that sprang up or gained new strength during the 1990s and 2000s, and that were challenging or complementing the traditional social scientific approach. Others included digital humanities, critical studies of information (that focus on the nexus between information and power), science and technology studies, information policy and ethics, children's and youth literature, and print and digital culture. While diverse in theory and content, these areas had in common that they drew on the humanities in the sense of exploring values (rather than aiming to be value free), concentrating on description rather than prediction, and focusing on content as well as method in their claims to validity. Some of the areas represented resurgences rather than innovation: children's and youth literature had a long history in librarianship, as did the study of information ethics, while the history of print culture emerged out of a study of the history of books and printing that dated back to the earliest days of library education.

Print culture studies and the history of the book was still a new area of research in the 1970s and 1980s, but grew fast in the 1990s with support from the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (sharp), and the Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America (now the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.58 Researchers from many disciplines (principally history and literature, but also education, sociology, geography, women's studies, and library and information studies) came together in this expanding field, where historians of libraries found broader, more critical audiences and fresh ways to think about their work, and print culture researchers discovered a new interest in libraries as subjects for historical inquiry. In the history of print culture researchers began to pay attention to publications and groups previously ignored in the academy, such as popular and ephemeral literature and the history of everyday reading. Libraries gained attention not only for their collections of popular and ephemeral literature, but also as sources of data about readers, which digital techniques now made it feasible to analyze. Thus “I” and “L” found common interests in the digital humanities.

The 1980s also saw the beginnings of a resurgence of Readers Advisory services, at about the same time as the success of academic publications that focused on popular culture, like Janice Radway's Reading the Romance, encouraged librarians to accept and indeed promote popular fiction.59 No longer professionally required to lead patrons to a higher standard of reading, librarians were now free to focus on what people really wanted to read. A landmark event occurred when ucla professor Betty Rosenberg (whose motto was, “Never apologize for your reading taste”) taught a course in genre fiction at in the late 1970s, followed by the publication of her book Genreflecting, based on the course, that came out in 1982.60 Celebrity librarians, most notably Nancy Pearl, helped foreground reading in public libraries, linking reading to community building through, for instance, the One Book One Community movement, which started in Seattle in 1998. Books, including ebooks, were coming back as a focus of innovative public library activity.61 The revival of Readers Advisory in public libraries was accompanied by the growth of commercial products to support it, including spinoffs from the original Genreflecting, and online products like the database NoveList. Here, too, a blend of reading and technology offered librarians new opportunities. These developments were encouraging a reevaluation of the place of the humanities in lis.


In the early twenty-first century, libraries have not become irrelevant in the ways that some predicted in the 1980s and 1990s; rather, their spaces have adapted as their missions expanded to include digital as well as print materials. As inequality deepened in the late twentieth century, for instance, public libraries worked to bridge the digital divide, just as they had worked since the nineteenth century to bridge the print divide. Nor has the need for libraries as physical spaces disappeared, as evidenced by the numbers of Americans who visit them. In 2012 (the latest year for which data are available), Americans made 1.5 billion trips to public libraries—the equivalent of more than 4.1 million visits each day. The great majority was there to check out library materials (2 billion items circulated in 2012, an increase of 28% over the previous ten years), or attend programs (92 million attendees—an increase of 37% over the previous eight years).62

It is true that debates about the relative values of reading and information have not gone away. Public libraries have to make hard choices about which services to prioritize. On the one hand are those who continue to argue for the primacy of a sustained, reflective, literary mode of reading—the kind of reading that proponents argue can help shape thoughtful, committed citizens. On the other hand are those who see in digital technology the means to organize and gain access to an overwhelming quantity of information: a potentially democratizing force. But no longer do librarians necessarily think of “reading” and “information” in separate theoretical and practical categories. Studies of both reading and information recognize the key role of technology and adopt key humanistic concepts, such as awareness of context (especially in language and historical factors), and acknowledge the importance of identity dimensions such as class, race, and gender. In the twenty-first century, aspiring librarians no longer learn to be missionaries of the book, but alongside classes that confer technical and managerial skills, classes like “Reading Interests of Adults” form a central part of their professional preparation. At the same time, consciousness and understanding of how gender works as a social structural dimension has encouraged acceptance rather than denigration of the feminization of librarianship. Library education's “Battle of the Books” has indeed ended, not with the victory of one side over the other, but with the battle itself becoming irrelevant, as the old oppositions of twentieth-century library education—“good” versus “bad” reading, information versus books, science versus the humanities, and even “female” versus “male”—have crumbled.


An earlier version of this article was presented at the Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium, School of Library and Information Science, National Taiwan University (Taipei, Taiwan), October 20, 2011, and appears in the symposium proceedings. Many thanks to Director Chi-Shiou Lin for permission to publish this revised and extended version. Thanks also go to Wayne A. Wiegand for his helpful comments on a draft of the article.


Mrs. Lester Benson Orr to Mary Emogene Hazeltine, June 9, 1924, Library School Student Records, Archives, University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Melvil Dewey's 1912 letter to Lutie Stearns, praising the work of her colleague Frank Avery Hutchins, was published in “Extracts from Some Letters of Appreciation,” Wisconsin Library Bulletin 9, no. 1 (February 1913): 8.


Wayne A. Wiegand, Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey (Chicago: American Library Association, 1996), 85, 93.


Ibid., 61.


Valmai Fenster, “The University of Wisconsin Library School: A History, 1895–1921,” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1977, 17.


Wiegand, Irrepressible Reformer, 204


Dee Garrison, Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Culture, 1876–1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 35.


Wiegand, Irrepressible Reformer, 204.


Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from their Nineteenth-century Beginnings to the 1930s (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 80.


Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 317–18.


Laurel Ann Grotzinger, The Power and the Dignity: Librarianship and Katharine Sharp (New York: Scarecrow, 1966), 299.


Ibid., 303.


Fenster, “University of Wisconsin Library School,” 98.


Ibid., 137–38.


Ibid., 149.


University of Wisconsin Catalogue, 1912, 306–7.


Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 21.


“Wisconsin Library School First Annual Visit to Chicago Libraries,” April 2–6, 1907, Archives, iSchool at UW-Madison.


Fenster, “University of Wisconsin Library School,” 166.


Joanne Passet, Cultural Crusaders: Women Librarians in the American West, 1900–1917 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994), 2.


Ibid., 21.


See, for instance, “For Boys and Girls: What Not to Buy,” Wisconsin Library Bulletin 23, no. 4 (April 1927): 95–96.


An extensive literature describes the so-called Fiction Problem. For a summary see Christine Pawley, Reading Places, Literacy, Democracy and the Public Library in Cold War America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), esp. 123–43.


John Richardson Jr., The Spirit of Inquiry: The Graduate Library School at Chicago, 1921–51 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982), 7.


Charles C. Williamson, Training for Library Service: A Report Prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. New York, 1923. Reprinted in The Williamson Reports of 1921 and 1923, edited by Sarah K. Vann (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1971). See also Sarah K. Vann, Training for Librarianship before 1923: Education for Librarianship Prior to the Publication of Williamson's Report of Training for Library Service (Chicago: American Library Association, 1961).


Williamson, Training for Library Service, 136. See also Barbara Brand, “Pratt Institute Library School: The Perils of Professionalization,” in Reclaiming the Library's Past: Writing the Women In, ed. Suzanne Hildenbrand (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1996), 263.


Brand, “Pratt Institute Library School,” 271.


Quoted in Suzanne Hildenbrand, “The Information Age versus Gender Equity? Technology and Values in Education for Library and Information Science,” Library Trends 47, no. 4 (Spring 1999): 671. Bryan was professor in Columbia University's School of Library Services and author of The Public Librarian: A Report of the Public Library Inquiry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952).


Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, The Politics of Knowledge: The Carnegie Corporation, Philanthropy, and Public Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 67–68, 114.


Patti Cayton Becker, “Moving Up to the University: The Allez Years, 1928–1950,” in Tradition and Vision: Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin, a Centennial History, ed. Louise S. Robbins et al. (Madison, WI: School of Library and Information Studies, 2006) 45.


Lagemann, Politics of Knowledge, 114.


Richardson, Spirit of Inquiry, 64.


Graduate Library School Catalogue, 1929–30, 3


Richardson, Spirit of Inquiry, 123.


William S. Learned, The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1924), 3. See also Joyce M. Latham, “Clergy of the Mind: Alvin S. Johnson, William S. Learned, the Carnegie Corporations, and the American Library Association,” Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 80, no. 3 (July 2010): 249–65.


Learned, American Public Library, 8, 12.


Ibid., 12.


Ibid., 29, 33–35.


Richardson, Spirit of Inquiry, 123–24.


Pierce Butler, An Introduction to Library Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933).


C. S. Thompson, “Do We Want a Library Science?” Library Journal 56, no. 13, (1931): 585, 587.


See, for instance, William S. Gray and Ruth Munroe, Reading Interests and Habits of Adults: A Preliminary Report (New York: Macmillan, 1929).


Douglas Waples and Ralph Tyler, What People Want to Read About: A Study of Group Interests and a Survey of Problems in Adult Reading (Chicago: American Library Association and University of Chicago Press, 1931).


W. Boyd Rayward, “The Problem of Connections: Education for the Practice of Librarianship,” Journal of Librarianship 16, no. 3 (July 1984): 151–69.


Margaret F. Stieg, Change and Challenge in Library and Information Science Education (Chicago: American Library Association, 1992), 28.


Richardson, Spirit of Inquiry, 152–53; in 2016 a gls (MA and PhD) graduate, Carla D. Hayden, became Librarian of Congress, the first woman and the first African American to hold the post.


Stieg, Change and Challenge, 33.


Stephen P. Harter, “Library Education Is in Trouble,” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 8 (February 1982): 32.


Tefko Saracevic, “Time for Divorce: Setting up Degree Programs in Information Science,” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 8 (June 1982): 32


Blaise Cronin, “Shibboleth and Substance in North American Library and Information Science Education,” Libri 45 (March 1995): 45–63


Hildenbrand, “The Information Age versus Gender Equity?,” 676.


Christine Pawley, “History in the Library and Information Science Curriculum: Outline of a Debate,” Libraries and Culture 40, no. 3 (2005): 223–38.


Wilson Library Bulletin 59 (September 1984): 13.


Christine Pawley, “Hegemony's Handmaid? The lis Curriculum from a Class Perspective,” Library Quarterly 68, no. 2 (April 1998): 135–36.


Stieg, Change and Challenge, 28–29.


Marion Paris, Library School Closings: Four Case Studies (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988), 152.


The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America was founded in 1992 by Wayne A. Wiegand, lis professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and James P. Danky, librarian at the Wisconsin Historical Society. For details of its development, see Christine Pawley, “Success on a Shoestring:' A Center for a Diverse Print Culture History in Modern America,” Library Trends 56, no. 3 (Winter 2008): 705–19.


Janice A. Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).


Betty Rosenberg, Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction (Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1982). Genreflecting is now in its eighth edition.


For the role of librarians in One Book One Community, and other “mass reading events,” see Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Reading Beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture (New York: Routledge, 2013).


Institute of Museum and Library Services. Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2012. Available at https://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/PLS_FY2012.pdf. For discussion of public libraries as spaces, see John E. Buschman, and Gloria J. Leckie, People Places: The Library as Place: History, Community and Culture (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006), and Wayne A. Wiegand, Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

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